Vitalogy

Below you will find the results of my having challenged myself for a number of days to write a short story with a beginning and middle and an end inside of 30 minutes.  Here is what I came up with.  I hope you like it.

Some guys in a band called City Slang were booked to play at the student union.  I wasn’t doing the booking, but it was up to me to make sure the PA system worked properly or that the stage didn’t accidentally catch fire from all the cables writhing around behind the drum set.

They were older guys.  Early 30s.  Not at all what we were used to having.  Usually, we got young bands from the local schools or hip, independent acts.  City Slang had prematurely graying temples and vintage equipment.  They even dressed kind of square:  white slip on loafers and polyester pants;  thin gold chains;  collared shirts with palm tree patterns.

These guys were exhausted.  They made no secret of ducking into the bathroom for instant bumps of coke.  They didn’t speak much.  Communicated through the eye rolls and hand gestures that only band mates can understand – developed after years of tolerating and being tolerated.

City Slang hit the stage at 10PM in front of about 50 people.  They played a great set. Elvis Costello-style pub rock with cool singing.  Once again, it wasn’t the most fashionable thing, but they did it well.  Two sets – which was unheard of – and a long encore of Kinks and Yardbirds covers.

1 AM.  As they were loading up their – of course – station wagon, I asked if they had any merch.  I always make it a point to buy something off a touring band, be it a t-shirt or a record:  often, it pays for a full tank of gas or a meal.

One of the guys in City Slang reached into the back of the wagon and handed me a single.  7 inch.  Black vinyl.  Paper sleeve.  Orange label.

Thanks, guys…

…and they were gone.

Red brake lights into the night like eyes.  Eyes like a ghost.

I dismantled the PA system so the girls’ Judo club would have a place to put their mats in the morning.  I sat on the concrete steps outside and drank a couple of beers.  All alone.  Pitch black.  Good old New England dark.  Just the trees rocking in the spring air.  Their full leaves wafting like underwater ferns in all that darkness. 

I got back to my dorm close to 4AM.

First thing, I slapped the City Slang 45 on the turntable, an old Technics. 

The single was OK.  It was called “Pigeons From Hell” and, frankly, the version they played live was much better.  The record sounded thin and, horribly, there was a ‘flash’ guitar solo in the middle of what should have been a cool, Stones-y crawler.

I flipped it over.  The b-side was “The Monkey’s Paw.”  The song started out with just a drum beat – not quite dance-y, but insistent.

I leaned my head back against the pillow and was asleep within seconds.

I woke up at 9AM to the sound of drums.  I looked at the turntable;  “The Monkey’s Paw” was still playing.  I must have left the stylus on repeat.

I hadn’t.

Drums.

Drums.

The record didn’t go anywhere.  It was just drums.  Incredibly, the needle seemed to roam around the grooves at will, but the regimented beat of drums was uninterrupted.

I stared at the spinning black circle for a few moments.  Or hours. 

It just kept playing.   Never getting any closer to ending.  It just continued.

Drums.

I turned the volume down.

Silence.

I turned the volume back up.

Drums.

Drums forever.  Always drums.

The single played continuously – never getting any closer to an ending – for the entirety of my sophomore, junior and senior years.  When it came to clear out of the dorms for the summer, I’d turn the volume down, shut off the lights and close the door.  In September, I’d return and turn the sound back up. 

Drums.  Right where we left off.  Never getting any closer to the end.

I’m graduating in two weeks.  I’m going to clean out my dorm room, but leave the stereo system for whoever shows up.  Maybe they’ll hear what I heard.

I talked to my parents about my driving around for the summer.  Cross country.  “Finding myself.”

I don’t want to find myself.  I’m going to look for City Slang.

     

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